Commonwealth Games: Missing athletes could be genuine refugees, advocates say
Some Commonwealth Games athletes who have disappeared from the Gold Coast Athletes Village could have legitimate cases for asylum in Australia because of human rights concerns in their home countries, the Refugee Council of Australia says.
The Commonwealth Games Federation confirmed there were reports Rwandan and Ugandan athletes were missing, along with eight competitors from Cameroon.
Two squash players from Sierra Leone are also being looked for.
A Gold Coast migration agent said his business had spoken to more than 40 Commonwealth Games athletes, mostly from African nations, inquiring about how to stay in Australia.
Refugee Council CEO Paul Power said the likelihood of a successful asylum claim would depend on the athletes’ personal circumstances.
“The refugee definition requires someone to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their political beliefs or their religious beliefs or their ethnicity or social group,” Mr Power said.
“It is a fairly high threshold and certainly not an easy process for people to be able to demonstrate that.
“But certainly, from what we know about the situation in Cameroon it is possible.”
Immigration law specialist Simon Jeans said the athletes would need to apply for a protection visa and would be able to live and work in the country on a bridging visa while their application was processed.
“They’d have a sporting visa of fairly short validity and they would need to apply for a protection visa before the expiry of that visa,” he said.
“In the case of Cameroon, there are human rights problems, there’s a general terrorist threat from Boko Haram and if you read the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel advice they have a high level of caution.”
Mr Jeans said it may take years for a decision to be made on whether a protection visa is granted.
“At the moment, the department is concentrating on the boat arrival cases so they may not find out for between one-and-a-half and two years,” he said.
“If the case was unsuccessful they could appeal to a tribunal — that could take anywhere from another one to two years.
“If they lived in Victoria, there’s a significant backlog in the courts of three years.
“If they’re a talented athlete, the [Immigration] Minister may consider that worthy of granting a visa and then they can compete for Australia.”